Pull up any plant and the first thing you’ll see are the roots. They’re a vital part of that plant. They provide it with water and nourishment and, without them, the beautiful flower that sits at the top of the plant would wither and die. It may never have formed at all. The strange thing is, though, if you removed one of those roots and replanted your flower, it would still survive… Also, without the leaves that turn light and carbon dioxide into oxygen and food, the roots would mean very little. The point is that if you are looking at a flower on a whim, you would have a tendency to focus on this finished product, the sum of the whole plant, or the macro, whereas it’s the individual parts of it, the micro, that have made it what it is.
Just like any student of writing, for the war plot that you have dreamed up you’ve created a beginning, a middle and an end. You have some idea of the major events that are going to take place. War will be declared in the beginning. A winner will be decided at the end. The middle will detail the key events in the war. You’re not just a student of writing, you’re a good student of writing, so you’re not going to just detail the events one after another, blow by blow. Instead, you’ve created some compelling characters, who you intend to flesh out in three dimensions in your opening chapters. You’ll then use them to give us insights into what your action really means, and the point behind it. Maybe you have several twists planned, and those characters are key to enabling that to play out, their motivations and actions serving as the catalyst that sends us as readers down an unexpected path. Your elements are in place.
However, when the enemy general defects to the side of good during the final stages of your story, how much will it mean to your readers? Yes, you’ve taken them on a journey through a bitter war, with some compelling descriptive sequences, but did you lay the foundations for this plot-shaking event? Sure, it was meant to be a surprise, but the breadcrumb trail should be there to follow, even if it’s vague. Readers enjoy piecing together a mystery, even if they’re not reading a detective story. It gives them a chance to engage with the story on another level and they feel rewarded if they jump to the right conclusion. This trail doesn’t even have to be actions taken by that specific character.
The macro view shows us that he leads the antagonists, that he is a proud man who is bound by a specific moral code that he has never questioned and that, in the end, that code loses its meaning for him. The micro view shows us what feeds that. There is a moment where he has to give the order to raze a village to the ground, even though there are only women and children inside it. There is a moment where he questions what he did in the presence of a superior officer and is slapped across the face for challenging their authority. There is a moment where he is injured on the battlefield and taken in by the very people he was trying to kill and nursed back to health before being released. Delving even further into the microcosm, we see his reactions to each event, the reactions of those around him. There are specific triggers for the emotions that he feels. He smells the stench of death on the battlefield. He feels relief as his bullet wound is cleaned and bandaged. You’re putting your heart and soul into being descriptive and so we feel it with him. Suddenly, the whole story has even more value, and instead of just being entertained by a well-planned and penned piece, we are moved. We want to read the story again. It holds meaning for us and we can identify with it.
As you think about your writing, in whatever form, ask yourself this question – how many levels are there to what you’re working on? What is the overall plot, the macrocosm in which your story unfolds? And where is the smallest microcosm? Which events, actions, thoughts and feelings are preparing your readers for what is to come, subconsciously or otherwise? Can you populate your microcosm with more significant and meaningful events?
(Written by: Captain Diego Herrera)